For the second year in a row, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s Destination Series presented a program titled “Holiday Brass!” on Friday night at Cave Spring United Methodist Church.
The quintet, consisting of James Bean and Jason Crafton on trumpets, Wallace Easter on French horn, Jay Crone on trombone and Brandon Smith on tuba, played pieces to an audience of 365 people.
The modern church was beautifully decorated for the season with a lighted tree near the stage, as well as a plethora of poinsettias.
Because the program did not include notes, the players spoke before some of the pieces. This added an informal and relaxed atmosphere that suited the spirit of the occasion.
With one exception, all the pieces were arrangements for a brass quintet of works that were originally performed by other musical combinations.
The acoustics in the space were live but allowed the group’s individual colors to be heard clearly.
After a spirited opening “Fanfare” by Paul Dukas, the quintet played Samuel Scheidt’s “Battle Suite” with great skill. From the trumpet dialogue of the Galliard, and the expressive long-breathing lines of the Courant Dolorosa, to the final Canzon Bergamasque, with its imitative textures, the group provided effective dynamic changes and rhythmic precision.
In Brahms’ version of “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming,” the quintet applied appropriately Romantic swells of volume. And they played Grainger’s “Sussex Mummers’ Carol” with great sensitivity.
One of the highlights of the evening was a jazzy arrangement of “Amazing Grace” featuring the considerable technical skills of the trumpeter Crafton. He wowed the audience with his control of a wide range, including perfectly placed high tones and a swinging Dixieland style.
An added piece to the program, “Oblivion” by Astor Piazzolla, allowed Crone’s trombone to shine, and the group played the underlying hypnotic Latin rhythms with sensuous appeal.
Tuba player Smith showcased his virtuosic agility in the complex polyphony of Bach’s “My Spirit Be Joyful.” Here, Easter on the French horn also displayed his nimble negotiation of a tricky line.
After a energetic “Scherzo” by John Cheetham, the only piece written for a brass quintet, the program ended with an enjoyable medley of Christmas carols and songs. To liven up the sounds, there were muted effects, stomping feet and the inevitable trombone glissandi.
The audience joined in with the encore by singing four verses of “Silent Night” from the hymnbooks in the pews, before standing in appreciation for a delightful hour of festive music.
Tim Gaylard is a professor of music at Washington and Lee University.